Friday, 22 November 2013

Image and sound; atmospheric horror and extreme metal.

Take a look at some of the following images.

They are not, in fact, screen captures from obscure French horror films. They are actually promotional photos for the bands Portal, Xasthur and Arckanum. These are musicians, not directors, not make up artists and not set designers. These people make music. How then, can these three groups look more terrifying than any antagonist that's been on film in the past twenty years? Are they simply borrowing heavily from horror and fantasy or has extreme metal come so far that its music and sound has begun to seep into the mind's eye?

It can be said that sound can influence images and images can influence sound. There's a relationship that has always been there. Bootsy Collins looks like a flamboyantly gay alien and that's because Bootsy Collins played music that was, at the time, very alien and unfamiliar. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was Bootsy Collins dressing this way before he picked up that bass? Is it mere showmanship? If it is showmanship, then why did he adopt that 'look' in particular?

Bärbel and Moritz (1999) state that "The soundtrack has a lot of influence on the image, and on how we perceive the imagery of a film. It might be an animated or live-action film, long or short, documentary or abstract, music video or narrative -- every film has its own special character in its image and sound, which together forge a dramaturgic development, an "animation" that paces the piece."

This is to say that the tones and rhythms of music are powerful tools in perceiving sensory information. Minor guitar chords are perceived as "sad". It is unknown why certain chords sound sadder than others, or why we digest the sound in such a manner, but the fact that a sound can activate an emotional response is enough to say that sound can also have an immediate effect on our mood and even our imagination. Music can paint images in our head in the same way that the radio drama of the 1930s painted images for the listener using only dialogue and sound. It's like abstract art. There's very little to see, so your imagination fills in the gaps by itself.

Extreme metal is distinct and diverse in its sound which can vary from violent and excruciating to bizarre, thoughtful and avant garde. There is a large pallet of colours in its arsenal and this is why we can argue that, with all of its subgenres and offshoots, extreme metal is perhaps the most emotive of musical art forms.

Black metal, characterized by its bleak tones, inhuman shrieking and low fi production, can inspire particularly harrowing imagery. A relatively new form of music, it has progressed since its initial boom in the early 90s and has spawned off many offshoots of the genre. Black metal has, however, been around for a lot longer than the corpse-painted ghouls that we associate it with. Were these bands just trying to emulate characters like King Diamond and Alice Cooper or did the music, the tone itself , play a part in the conception of the imagery we now associate with it?

Check out some Moëvöt. What kind of image does this music paint for you? You may not enjoy it whatsoever, but give it an ear. This recording is from between 1991-1995, I believe. A time when blast beats, shrieking and headbanging were common tropes in the metal scene. So where in the blue hell did this come from?

Now, keeping in mind that we're in the early 90s right now. Here's a photo of Vordb Dréagvor Uèzréèvb. mastermind behind Moëvöt:

It's completely subjective, but it's not unfair to say that this man looks like his music. He portrays himself this way to promote his music. Listen to the song and throw your eyes of this image. It fits. But which came first? The image or the sound? Which was the instigator? If he's just emulating another artist, then where did it all begin?

Of course this is just an example and a very short article that probably reads like a drunken rambling in any college bar. It may be interesting, for any of you scholar types, to delve deeper into the relationship between audio and visual stimulus. What influenced what? Did speedy percussion and tremolo picking really give birth to this chilling imagery or is at all part of the master plan?

Neubauer, Bärbel and William Moritz. "The Influence of Sound and Music on Images." Animation World Magazine. June 1999. Web. November 22 2013.

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